During a recent trip to Australia, I narrowed down where to eat in Sydney. I’ve done all the research and the taste-testing for World Oyster readers so that you won’t be disappointed. (Hey, someone had to do it!) All you need to do is read, book, and go.
Foodies will find two exceptional, upscale restaurants, Silvester’s and Café Sydney, but fortunately great meals can be found at all different price points. It just depends on what you’re looking for at any given moment.
If you have visited Sydney and want to add to my list, please leave a mini-review in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.
Before we left the U.S., we tried in vain to get online reservations for the in-demand Café Sydney. In a last ditch effort, upon arrival, we asked our concierge if he could secure one. Although he wasn’t optimistic, to all of our surprise he managed to book us an indoor table on a Monday night. Outdoor seating in that restaurant is scarce and never guaranteed.
The Café Sydney combines upscale, innovative cuisine with an unparalleled view, and for that reason, diners consider it an occasion restaurant. The interior is dark, darker even than most restaurants, but that only enhances the night views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Located on a top floor of the Customs House, it couldn’t be more convenient to those staying in either The Rocks or the Circular Quay area.
We started with oysters on the half shell and Black Angus beef carpaccio, both appetizers fresh and flavorful. We followed with mains of roasted pork belly with pork-and-cider sausage and Calvados cream; and Tandoori Ora King salmon with onion potato bhaji and a spiced tomato and yogurt sauce. An order of garlic naan and a side of fries rounded out the meal. Dessert and cocktails maintained the same high standards.
Service was uniformly excellent. The staff even encouraged us to step outside on the balcony after dinner to take in the whole view.
Tip: Concierges from upscale hotels can often secure reservations when diners cannot on their own.
When I discovered that Silvester’s, a highly-rated restaurant, was located inside the Sydney Harbour Marriott, my interest in it waned. I couldn’t imagine that dishes coming from a chain hotel’s kitchen would meet my high standards. Still, we had already booked it, so off we went. Boy, am I glad I didn’t try to find another restaurant. Our dishes tasted just as delicious as those at the Café Sydney. Of course, the ambience didn’t match Café Sydney’s, even if the unique vertical garden and open kitchen provided interest.
We started with the yellow fin tuna poke with yuzu kosho and the Australian cured meats. The poke came with a wavy rice crisp that I’m dying to figure out how to replicate. For our mains, we had the Glacier 51 toothfish and the house-made gnocchi with pumpkin, miso, and native dukkha. One dessert stood out for its uniqueness: mini pistachio cannoli with an herb infusion tea made from herbs clipped from the vertical garden. The extra dessert treats of truffles and mini meringue cones tasted as delicious as those we ordered.
The service was exceptional, as one would expect. Juliano knew when to approach the table and when to keep his distance. His help in ordering and explaining various ingredients, as well as choosing the herbs for the infusion himself, ended up making the evening perfect in every regard.
Tip: Silvester’s accepts online reservations via The Fork. Go to the restaurant’s website for the link.
Sydney Cove Oyster Bar
Like Café Sydney, the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar gets extra points for its location and view. Of course, it wouldn’t have made my list unless it also served wonderful food. I consider this a step below the first two restaurants in terms of the wow factor; however, like the Mode Kitchen and Bar below, it’s still much better than average.
Because the restaurant is, after all, an oyster bar, we started with rosé sparkling wine and a half dozen Sydney Rock oysters, two of each kind. The oysters arrived with paper labels indicating their source. My husband and I both ordered Tasmanian salmon with diamond clams, green asparagus, and salmon roe for our mains. The skin on the salmon was crisp and flavorful, and I loved the burst of texture that the salmon roe added.
Tip: Reserve in advance and request a waterside table. The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar accepts online reservations.
Mode Kitchen and Bar
We chose Mode Kitchen and Bar, located in the Four Seasons, to cap off our long day in the Hunter Valley. Since we were staying in the hotel, we made the choice partially for convenience but also for its good reviews. We loved the wood-roasted Tasmanian octopus, the cauliflower and hazelnut salad, the blue-eye trevalla with asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, and the roasted lamb shoulder with Tasmanian pepperberry and broccolini.
Tip: Several diners around us opted for the Tasmanian festival tasting menu for AU$ 95 pp. The dishes looked fantastic, and the menu may be well worth ordering.
Highlander Whisky Bar
When you want a semi-casual dinner in a clubby atmosphere, head to the Sir Stamford Hotel and its Highlander Whisky Bar. Because the hotel takes its name from the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, the décor is British Colonial and they specialize in dishes that hail from Singapore.
We ordered simple comfort food since we were exhausted, having only arrived in Sydney that morning: paparadelle with beef ragu for me and a juicy hamburger and fries for my husband. Both were good, prepared as expected. The service here was a little harried when the dining room started filling up, and it took a while to flag down our server when we needed something. Still, the cozy atmosphere and the well-prepared food hit the spot.
For a Quick Lunch . . .
The Gateway food court has a lot of popular and reasonably priced restaurants. Some, like Four Frogs Creperie, have their own tables and a take-away counter, while others are purely take-away. Seats and tables are available throughout, if you can find a free one. I liked both Four Frogs and Bread & Fill.
I liked the Guylian Chocolate Café for breakfast and an afternoon snack. It also looks good for a casual lunch. For breakfast, I ordered yummy avocado toast. You order at the counter, and a server will bring your food to the table. The company has two locations, one in the Rocks and one on the Circular Quay.
If you like pastries for breakfast, try La Renaissance Patisserie. They sell excellent almond croissants, apple turnovers, and regular croissants, all still warm from the oven. You can sit outside under the umbrellas and listen to the lorikeets as you eat. I had wanted to come back later in the day to sample the macarons and other baked goods but never found the chance.
Foodies should not leave Sydney without trying Café Sydney, Silvester’s, and/or Sydney Cove Oyster Bar. Even if these restaurants don’t match your personal tastes or budget, you’ll find plenty of restaurants in the city that do.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann